SAMARA, Russia (Reuters) - Despite England generally dominating their World Cup quarter-final against Sweden it was goalkeeper Jordan Pickford who was man of the match in the 2-0 victory as coach Gareth Southgate’s faith in the 24-year-old was amply rewarded.
England were leading through a Harry Maguire header with Sweden barely mounting an attack when Pickford showed great reactions to push away a Marcus Berg header.
Dele Alli put England 2-0 up but Pickford also made another excellent save from Viktor Claesson, then tipped a Berg shot over the bar to ensure there was no nervous finale.
In the second round he made an astonishing save in stoppage time to push clear a 35-metre pile-driver by Colombia’s Mateus Uribe that was heading for the top corner. That was somewhat overshadowed by Colombia equalizing from the resulting corner but Pickford got his moment in the limelight with a shootout save as England triumphed on penalties.
“After I made that first save from Marcus Berg with the header that was me set for the rest of the game,” Pickford said on Saturday.
“I wasn’t born the last time England reached a World Cup semi-final (in 1990). We have always said we would take one game at a time and we can go on and create our own history.”
Everton’s Pickford made his England debut seven months ago and had only three caps before the World Cup but Southgate let him know he would be his first-choice.
He also backed him up with two more inexperienced keepers in the shape of Jack Butland (eight caps) and Nick Pope (one), leaving behind long-term regular Joe Hart.
Like much that Southgate has done since taking over as England manager, it has proved a refreshing and hugely effective approach.
England have a long tradition of excellent goalkeepers but also a tradition of playing them beyond their sell-by-date, with fatal consequences.
Peter Shilton was almost 41 in the 1990 World Cup and did not look as if he would save a German penalty in the shootout defeat if they had been taking them until midnight.
Twelve years later the near-39-old David Seaman stood motionless as Ronaldinho’s speculative long-range shot floated over him almost in slow motion as Brazil knocked England out in the quarter-finals.
Southgate could have played it safe and kept faith with the experienced Hart, despite his struggles this season, but went with form, and youth, and has been amply vindicated.
“I had a good season and this is what it is all about,” Pickford said.
“I don’t put myself under pressure and play in the moment, nothing fazes me. The pitch is always the same. The lines and goal height are the same.
“I just work hard every day. I kept a clean sheet because all the work I do in training is to showcase on match day. I am capable of making these saves and it showed in the performance.”
Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Christian Radnedge